It is a well-known fact that reading makes kids smarter. Not only does reading build vocabulary (research done by Hayes and Ahrens (1988) found that even children’s books contain far more rare words than prime-time television, cartoons, and even 3x more than conversation between college graduates) but it also increases our capacity to learn other subjects.
One of the very best gifts you can give your children is the gift of a love-of-reading.
My very best tip for teaching your children to love books is to have fun with them! When your children interact positively with books, they will naturally be motivated to continue seeking out books and other literacy materials as they grow. Your biggest trouble will be getting them to stop reading when it’s time to do chores or school work or practicing or go to sleep.
Constantly expose your baby to books and words
Let your baby have soft books in his crib and car seat and keep a few in your diaper bag to pull out during church and Doctor appointments. You can even use a carabiner or velcro to affix books to the seat of your grocery cart or the car seat. Your baby will learn that books are fun toys.
Always allow your child decide how much time you spend reading. You don’t need to read every page. You may end up spending ten minutes exploring your child’s favorite page and never actually read the story. Your baby may just want to chew on the book and that’s okay!
The more that books are woven into children’s everyday lives, the more likely they will be to see reading as delightful and desirable.
Calm a distraught child with a soothing story at naptime or bedtime or when leaving them with a babysitter. Plastic bath time books are fun and could help a fussy baby enjoy his bath.
Sing and dance the words of books with your baby
So many of the best toddler books are rhymes or simple words with fun meters that can be sung and danced to. Each of my toddlers, in turn, would bring me Sandra Boynton’s Barnyard Dance and want me to sing while we danced the book together before they could even talk.
Let your baby participate in the reading process
Nine and ten-month-old babies, just learning to use their adorable, chubby hands, will want to turn the pages just like you. Be sure it’s a sturdy board book and let them! Keep a basket of board books with your child’s toys and let him play with them. Let him choose what to read.
We keep more fragile books on higher shelves, out of reach of toddlers, and when we pull them out we ask the toddler to let mommy turn the pages because this is a fragile book. But at around 18-months toddlers can certainly turn paper pages with a little gentle instruction and help.
Show your baby words and letters
Run your finger along the words as you read them, from left to right. I love how Scout, in To Kill a Mockingbird, tells her kindergarten teacher that she already learned to read and write because she spent so much time sitting on Atticus’ lap as he would read aloud (grown-up newspapers and lawer-ly things!) and run his fingers along the words.
Read ABC books like Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom to your baby and point to the individual letters so your child will learn to recognize them.
Personalize the story
Create voices for the different characters and use funny actions, facial expressions and voice inflections to tell the story. Occasionally substitute your child’s name in place of the hero’s name. Add your own family members and pets to the stories.
Ask Each Other Questions About What You Read
Use the story to have a back-and-forth conversation with your child about familiar activities and animals you see in the illustrations or read about in the story. Continue the conversation throughout your day, while you grocery shop, prepare meals and fold laundry. Encourage your child to elaborate on the story, asking, “What happened next?” and bending low to really hear his reply.
Conversation is a critical component of the foundation of literacy.
It’s also fun to ask your child to tell you the story. They may not know the exact words, but will probably remember the gist, and will feel so proud about having ‘read’ the story to mommy.
I particularly love books without words for the reason that it develops storytelling and language ability as well as imagination.
Turn trips to the library into the ultimate reward
Create fun ‘library hype’ by telling your baby that as soon as x,y, and z are finished, you will take a trip to the library! Be sure you say it like it’s the most fun you’ll have all week because it’s amazing how quickly your children will adopt your attitude.
Most libraries have incredibly fun storytimes and toddler activities. Ask for a calendar or look one up online. Many of them also have lending libraries of games, learning manipulatives, videos, literacy materials and costumes and props. I’ve even seen musical instruments in lending libraries. Let your baby choose something fun to take home and explore, and he will beg you to return and borrow again and again.
Set aside a special receptacle to carry your library books in and to store them in at home. Your children will become familiar with that receptacle and it will become part of your library routine. We just use a large laundry basket, but it’s fun because we always joke about it. The laundry basket books are returned to the basket at night and off-limits the next day until chores and school work have been completed, which keeps the books special and nice.
Create Books Together
My kids love to make their own books to use as gifts to each other and grandparents and friends, to explore imaginary worlds and to chronicle shared adventures.
I cut a couple of pieces of printer paper in half the short way, along with one piece of cardstock. We layer them, the cardstock on the outside, as the cover, the printer paper inside as the book pages, then fold them in half and staple along the fold. My toddlers draw pictures and tell me the words to write, and my older kids write the whole thing.
Because they grew up creating books, they still create books as older children and teenagers. I love that they feel so confident in their abilities and never question whether their books are good enough.
Establish reading rituals within your family
Bedtime stories make a great anchor for a soothing nightly routine for babies and toddlers, who are prone to fussiness in the evenings. It’s fun to reserve a couple of special books specifically for your nightly ritual. Your baby will learn to anticipate them.
Another fun way to establish reading routines is to keep audiobooks in your car and listen to books instead of watching movies as you travel or spend time in the car. Always keep a couple of books in your bag, too for unexpected waiting times. Not all of your rituals need to be daily or weekly, either. Rituals can be associated with holidays or rewards.
We always give our children books as holiday gifts; books in their Easter baskets, each child opens a book the morning of Christmas Eve, books for birthday gifts and books as awards and rewards. Those become much-anticipated rituals and traditions.
Just yesterday I needed some uninterrupted time to complete a project that was approaching a deadline. Time, especially uninterrupted, is very hard to come by in a homeschooling family of ten. So I turned to my favorite bribe, D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read) camp.
At breakfast, I told my kids that as soon as they finished their school work and practicing we would take a quick trip to the library and then spend the rest of the day enjoying DEAR camp. They scurried around excitedly, like busy little bees, and completed all of their responsibilities by 9:30. We were back home, books and snacks in hand, by 11 a.m. and I was able to spend 12+ hours in peace and quiet completing and polishing my project. They spend an enjoyable day engrossed in their books instead of arguing and creating messes. Double win!
I try to keep DEAR camp somewhat infrequent in order to preserve its value, but it is still a ritual.
The benefits of reading to your baby
Reading aloud to your baby is an important form of stimulation. It develops many different parts of their brains, teaches babies about communication, introduces concepts like numbers, letters, colors and shapes in fun ways, and it builds listening, memory and vocabulary skills.
By the time babies reach their first birthday they will have learned all the sounds needed to speak their native language. The more you read aloud, the more words your child will be exposed to and the better he will be able to talk.
Hearing words frequently will help to build a rich network of words in your babies brain. Kids whose parents read to them often know more words by age 2 than children who have not been read to. Reading also fosters social and emotional development, because you use so many varied emotions and expressive sounds as you read.
But invariably the most important reason to read aloud is that it makes a connection between the things your baby loves the most — you and books. Spending time reading to your baby shows him that reading is a skill worth learning. And, if infants and children are read to often with joy, excitement, cuddles and love, they begin to associate books with happiness — and lifelong readers are created.
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